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7 Basic Tai Chi Exercises for Seniors

The idea of martial arts brings up visions of kicking, punching, rigorous training, and body contact. While many martial arts involve vigorous fighting techniques, there is an ancient martial art that does not promote violence or self-defense. Tai Chi is perfect for seniors and older adults who are looking for a low-impact exercise that still improves their health.

What is Tai Chi?

There is a reason why Tai Chi has been around for so many centuries. Dubbed the ‘longevity exercise’, Tai Chi is an ancient Chinese martial art that practices meditation in motion. It involves a series of movements executed in a slow, rhythmic, and focused manner combined with deep breathing. Each movement flows into the next without pausing, to ensure that the body is in constant motion.

These exercises are perfect for seniors since they are non-competitive, low impact, self-paced, and a gentle physical exercise combined with stretching of the muscles to help prevent injury. Tai Chi’s gentle and flowing actions promote relaxation, stress relief and a conscious awareness of the present.

What are the Benefits of Tai Chi?

According to the Chinese who practice Tai Chi, this exercise is capable of delaying the aging process, prolonging life, increasing flexibility, and strengthening muscles and tendons. Many practitioners also believe that Tai Chi may aid in the treatment of heart disease, high blood pressure, arthritis, skin diseases, and many other illnesses.

A meta-analysis study (a study that combined the results of many different studies) conducted on Tai Chi concluded that Tai Chi does have a positive effect on health, fitness, and balance.

Here are some of the supported health benefits of Tai Chi:

  • Improves Balance
  • Increases Strength and Endurance
  • Reduces Stress, Anxiety, and Depression
  • Reduces the Fear of Falling
  • Improves Self-Confidence
  • Improves Aerobic Capacity
  • Enhances Quality of Sleep
  • Improves Overall Well-being

Here are 7 basic Tai Chi exercises to start your routine:

1. Warm-Up

Just like in every workout, warming up the body is important to help prevent injuries and facilitate Tai Chi movements. In her book, “Stay Young with Tai Chi”. Tai Chi instructor Ellae Elinwood states that Tai Chi warm-ups “promote a relaxed attitude and encourage a state of well being.”

An example of a basic Tai Chi warm-up is the waist loosening exercise:

  1. Stand with your feet flat on the floor – slightly wider than hip-width apart.
  2. Relax your arms by your sides.
  3. Rotate your hips to the right and to the left while letting your arms hang loosely. With each rotation, your arms should flap against your body as you rotate.
  4. Repeat for 1-2 minutes or when you feel like your body has warmed up.
  5. You can then include your neck, shoulders, and spine in the rotations, making each movement smooth.

2. Touch the Sky

As described in Domingo Colon’s guide, “Senior’s Tai Chi Workout: Improve Balance, Strength and Flexibility”, this is a simple exercise perfect for beginners. This exercise is also a great warm-up before a more intensive workout as it helps synchronize breathing and movement.

  1. Sit up straight in a comfortable chair.
  2. Place your hands in your lap with your palms turned upward and your fingertips pointing toward one another.
  3. As you inhale slowly and deeply, raise your hands to chest level in front of you, turn your palms outward, and lift your hands above your head.
  4. Do not reach too far with your arms; keep your elbows relaxed and slightly bent.
  5. As you exhale slowly and deeply, relax your arms further and gently lower them to your sides.
  6. At the end of the breath, return your hands to the starting position with your palms turned upward.
  7. Repeat ten times.

3. Windmill Exercise

This basic exercise promotes flexibility and opens up your spine.

  1. Stand with your feet flat on the floor and slightly wider than shoulder-width apart.
  2. Release tension and relax your shoulders. Let your arms hang loosely by your sides.
  3. Bring your hands in front of your body with your fingers pointing down toward the floor.
  4. Inhale and raise your arms up towards the center of your body and bring it over your head, fingers pointing as you go.
  5. Stretch toward the ceiling and arch your spine slightly backward.
  6. Exhale and slowly bend your back forward to the floor, moving your hands down through the center of your body.
  7. Bend forward from your hip and let your arms to hang loosely in front of you.
  8. Inhale and return to your starting position.

4. Hand Exercise

The Tai Chi hand exercise promotes flexibility in your shoulders, arms, and fingers.

  1. Stand with your feet a bit wider than shoulder-width distance apart.
  2. Raise your arms straight out in front of you, parallel to the floor, shoulder, wrists and elbows aligned.
  3. Flex your hands and feel the stretch, then rotate you wrists to the left and then switch to the right.

5. Closing Posture

Usually performed at the end of a Tai Chi session, the Closing Posture is used to balance your energy and promote relaxation and serenity.

  1. Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart. Relax your shoulders and bring your hands into a cupped position with your palms facing upwards, resting in front of your pelvic bone.
  2. Close your eyes and imagine that you are pulling your energy upwards as you bring your hands up to the center of your body and onto your chest.
  3. Exhale and turn your hands so your palms are facing down. Imagine you are pushing your energy down as you push your hands toward the floor.
  4. Repeat this exercise for 1 to 2 minutes.

6. Shooting the Bow

This is a simple standing exercise.

  1. Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart and your arms hanging loosely at your sides.
  2. Round your back and bend your knees slightly, looking straight ahead with a relaxed posture.
  3. Ball your fists and place them directly in front of your face with your fingers facing you and the heels of your palms touching the sides.
  4. Breathe in slowly and deeply.
  5. As you inhale slowly and deeply, rotate at the waist to face to your left while extending your left hand directly in front of you.
  6. Your left hand should open with your palm facing outward. Your left arm should be relaxed and slightly bent.
  7. Simultaneously, pull back slightly with your right fist as if shooting a bow and arrow.
  8. Exhale slowly and deeply as you return to your starting position.
  9. On your next breath, repeat the on the side.
  10. Complete up to 10 repetitions.

7. The Golden Lion Shakes its Mane

  1. Grab a comfortable chair and sit up straight, with hands resting lightly on your thighs.
  2. Be comfortable and breathe in and out. As you exhale, slowly lean forward, and feel the stretch in your lower back.
  3. As you feel the stretch, twist your shoulders to one side, allowing your head and neck to turn with your shoulders and spine.
  4. Inhale slowly as you twist your back facing forward and return to your starting position.
  5. Repeat the movement facing the other side.
  6. Reverse the movement again as you inhale, returning to the starting position.
  7. Complete up to 10 repetitions on each side.

Even seniors with limited movement are capable of Tai Chi. These exercises can help them stay fit without worrying about injuries caused by vigorous exercise. Incorporating Tai Chi into weekly activities can help seniors relax, rejuvenate, and keep the blood flowing.

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Helping seniors stay healthy is a tenant of life at Westwind House.